Latin, updated

Does a Latin textbook need to be updated?

Critics say they understand why biology and accounting textbooks need frequent updating, by why algebra or ancient languages?

Unnecessary updates are “one of the biggest driving factors behind the high costs of textbooks,” says Merriah Fairchild, higher education advocate at the California Public Interest Research Group.

Wheelock’s Latin textbook includes many more photos and maps than in the original version, published 50 years ago.

Readings feature fewer battlefield dispatches and more emphasis on women and everyday life. There is even a dirty poem by Catullus.

Wheelock’s also has a Web site, e-mail discussion groups and, soon, online audio recordings.

A new version comes out about every five years.

About Joanne


  1. cui bono?

  2. Not to mention caveat emptor.

  3. Richard Feynmann was on a committee reviewing textbooks. He found out completely by accident that book publishers would lower their prices a lot if they found out a competitor’s book was being chosen.

    So they could cut costs a lot by selecting two or three of the best books and having the companies submit bids rather than picking one without haggling over price.

  4. I’ve come across a couple small mistakes in the current edition of Wheelock’s, not that I could name them for you now, so there’s that. Ancient languages may not change but our knowledge of them does: get a historical linguist going on Smyth’s Greek Grammar someday.

  5. Res ipsa loquitur.

  6. Avunculus says:

    Semper talis. Auspicium meloris aevi. Nemo me impune lacessit!

    Quisquid peregrinum?

  7. Lorem ipsum dolor…


  8. D Anghelone says:

    Yeah, but I’ll bet none of you can give correct pronunciation.

  9. Calculus probably hasn’t changed much recently, either, but new textbooks still come out every few years for that, too. I’m in no mood to go off on a rant about textbook prices right now, but publishers spend a lot of money trying to get professors to adopt their books and ensure that only new ones are sold in the campus bookstores. Costs could be cut, perhaps most easily by producing fewer hardcover books with heavy, glossy paper. But the more bells and whistles a book has, no matter how little benefit the students will get from them, the more likely faculty will adopt a book.

  10. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  11. Yep, I just went out to buy textbooks for my senior year of college. My textbooks rarely get taken back because each year there’s a new edition out . . . usually with very few changes. I checked out Barnes and Noble last December and found one bookI needed (for Spring semester) for $88. By mid-January, the same book was selling for $121. So I went to Amazon UK and bought it for $80. The UK site usually sells the books cheaper, even with shipping. The textbook companies could really lower their prices if they stopped putting out meaningless editions.

  12. I’m not sure what all those left-leaning marxist professors need with all that dirty capitalist money anyway…..

  13. Mark Odell says:
  14. Wheelock is a terrible text anyway. A chemistry professor friend of mine reired many years ago on the tons of money his text made. Every few years the publisher contacts him and requests an update in order to shut down the sales of used texts.

  15. Paper textbooks will be extinct like dinosaurs before long — replaced by *easily* updated sources online. I work for an education software/publishing company. We’re “sunsetting” our CD products while investing in creating innovative, interactive and continually updated web products. Our customers prefer them because they don’t have to get a tech to install the CDs on the network and the web site is always available. No waiting for the books to arrive. Teachers and sutdents just turn it on.

  16. Pronunciation of Latin depends a bit on what period of history you are trying to emulate. Even Latin evolved over time.

    I took 2 years of Latin in college to satisfy my LAS language requirement. I choose Latin since I thought it would help my English skills the most. I don’t think anything I learned in those two years will be substantially affected by any scholarship over the next 100 years or so. It’s only the pedantic minutae that change, and I say that as one who is quite fond of pedantic minutae.

    Veni, vidi, vixi.

  17. But the more bells and whistles a book has, no matter how little benefit the students will get from them, the more likely faculty will adopt a book.

    NOT THIS FACULTY. My ideal textbook is a $12 paperback that a student can carry everywhere. I’m hoping a few more good stats books go out of print so Dover will reprint them in El Cheapo versions. The $100-sidebars-funny-papers-bells-and-whistles textbooks are one big hustle.

  18. Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est. Carthago delenda est.
    Sic transit gloria Mundi.

    I’m glad I’ve used up my store of Latin cliches, or I might not be able to stop. 😉

  19. I can see the occasional new edition of Wheelock, since our own spoken English is changing constantly. Think about the chapters on the subjunctive, for example. The subjunctive is being slowly murdered in American spoken English (‘I wish I would have’ is my personal focus of vituperation), and the explanations of the uses of the subjunctive were certainly not very clear when I took Latin — and I knew what the subjunctive in English looked like and did!

  20. D Anghelone says:

    Veni, vidi, vixi.

    You came and saw the vixens?

  21. I went over to a store in the neighborhood called “Math ‘n’ Stuff” ( where they sell, among other things like lots of neat games, used math books. I wanted to review Algebra and see if I could still do it. I finally found a book old enough to be not too irritating but what I found in the newer books was just ridiculous: every single word problem seemed to have been turned into anti-smoking propaganda. No other drugs were used in the stories, just nicotine. I got so sick of it that I finally found a book from the 70s before the publishers decided that everything had to be propaganda. So there might be more reasons than just money to update books that shouldn’t need updating.